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Asthma and Medicines

Asthma and Medicines used in the control of asthma

The four basic groups of medicines used in the control of asthma are detailed here – bronchodilators, inhaled steroids, systemic/oral steroids, and mast cell stabilizers. For more information ask your doctor or you may ask a basic question of our online doctors using our Ask A Doctor page!

Asthma and Medicines


1- B Agonists

These medicines open up the airways or stop the spasm of airway muscles and relieve the symptoms of asthma and is often called a ‘reliever’ medicine. They are usually inhaled via an inhaler or nebulizer. Common types Ventolin, bricanyl, respolin, airomir and Atrovent. The side effects of this medicine is the typical ‘shakes’ that the patient gets and the racing of the heartbeat. Although the side effect can be annoying it is not harmful.

2- Theophylline

An older asthma medicine that is useful but not used as often these days as it used to be. Trade names are- Nuelin, Theodor. This medicine is taken by mouth and is also a bronchodilator. The side effects are tremors and rapid heart beating and occasionally vomiting. This medicine is dangerous to the heart if taken in excessive amounts especially in overdose.

3- Inhaled Steroids

These medicines prevent the occurrence of asthma symptoms if taken regularly at adequate doses. The medicine is taken via an inhaler only. Thus the inhaler is termed a ‘ preventer ‘. The side effects are thrush if the mouth is not rinsed and occasionally alteration in the voice. If a very large dose of steroid is used over a very long period of time there may be systemic steroid effects which you will hear about below. The medicine does not work unless it is taken at adequate doses all the time at the regular interval suggested by your doctor (usually twice a day).

4- Systemic or Oral Steroids

If someone has a bad asthma attack they may be asked to take steroids by their doctor. The human body produces these chemicals naturally but your doctor will give you a synthetic version. There are usually negligible side effects if steroids are taken for a period of less than a week, but if taken for longer over very frequent lesser doses then the following side effects may be seen.

  • Increased appetite and weight gain.
  • Slowed growth in children.
  • Easy bruising of the skin.
  • Swelling of the ankles.
  • Increased susceptibility to infections.
  • Indigestion or stomach ulcers.
  • Increase in body hair.
  • Bone weakening or osteoporosis.
  • Facial swelling or fullness.

Suppression of the adrenal glands. This means that the body’s steroid production halts. The body needs to have steroids and so the body may need to have small amounts of extra steroid until production resumes.

This list is quite ominous and may make one think twice about using steroids. But you must remember that these effects do not occur with less than a week’s of treatment and usually only occur after treatment for years on steroids.

Mast Cell Stabilisers

Mast cell stabilizers e.g. Vicrom? , Intal? and Tilade? these are medicines that are usually inhaled and are similar to inhaled steroids but they do not have any known side effects. The drawback is they usually have to be used more often e.g. four times a day. Also, they may be slightly less effective.


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Written by Dr. Ozair (CEO of SignSymptom.com) as physician writers are physicians who write creatively in fields outside their practice of medicine.

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